Written by: Allyson Hoffman
Updated February 25, 2021
Maybe you’ve stayed up all night cramming for an exam in the morning. Or perhaps you’ve told yourself “just one more episode” a few too many times. Maybe your job has required you to work through the night. Whatever your reason for pulling an all-nighter, you’re likely not alone.
Some people who pull all-nighters don’t sleep at all. Others catch just a few hours of shut-eye in the wee hours of the morning. Although there are no clear statistics on how many adults have pulled an all-nighter at least once in their lifetime, many Americans are not getting enough sleep. Adults should get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep nightly (1). However, 35% of Americans get less (2) than the necessary 7 hours.
Unfortunately, staying up all night is bad for your health — the costs of pulling an all-nighter almost always outweigh any short-term benefits. We’ll examine the impacts of all-nighters on your mental and physical well-being.
What are the physical side effects of pulling an all-nighter?
Staying up all night is bad for your physical health because it deprives you of necessary sleep. Insufficient sleep and all-nighters can lower your body’s resistance to illness and infection. Poor quality sleep and sleep deprivation also increase your risk for (3):
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease and cardiovascular disease
- Weight gain and obesity
- Type 2 diabetes
- Kidney disease
What impact do all-nighters have on performance?
Pulling an all-nighter also negatively impacts your day-to-day performance. Without enough sleep, you might:
- Find difficulty concentrating or thinking clearly
- Struggle to retain information and form memories
- Create false memories (4)
- Make decisions more slowly
- Take greater risks or make poor choices
Continued sleep deprivation can compound these effects and cause long-term cognitive deficits (5).
Because of these side effects, sleep-deprived people are more likely to be involved in an accident. When you drive with less than 6 hours of sleep, your risk of a car accident increases by 33% (6). In fact, driving while sleep-deprived can have the same effect as driving while drunk (7).
Will pulling an all-nighter affect my mental health?
All-nighters are also bad for your mental health. People who are sleep deprived are likely to be more irritable than their usual selves. They are also at increased risk for depression and anxiety.
You might also consider whether your mental health impacts your sleep schedule and causes you to pull all-nighters. Consult your physician if this is a concern for you.
How does an all-nighter affect my sleep schedule?
Although it might seem like a good idea in the moment, staying up all night negatively impacts your sleep schedule and circadian rhythm (8). After a night without sleep, you may find yourself struggling to stay awake during the daytime. If you take too long of a nap to recover during the day, that can make sleeping through the next night difficult. A poor sleep schedule can lead to many physical and mental health concerns in the long term.
Do all-nighters work for college students?
In one study, up to 60% of university students (9) reported pulling at least one all-nighter since starting college. That same study also revealed that university students who frequently pull all-nighters have worse academic performance than their peers. Additionally, the students who pulled all-nighters had increased symptoms of depression.
How are athletes affected by all-nighters?
Without enough sleep, athletic performance suffers. Athletes with inadequate sleep exhaust faster (10) and are at greater risk of injury or illness (11). Other physical and mental health concerns can arise if athletes continue to have insufficient sleep.
What are some tips for reducing the effects of an all-nighter if it can’t be avoided?
If you can plan for an all-nighter, consider getting extra sleep ahead of time. People who travel to different time zones are encouraged to set up their sleep schedule to match the destination location in advance.
You can also try a “coffee nap” to stay alert (12). Immediately after drinking coffee during your all-nighter, take a quick nap of no more than 20 minutes. Studies have shown this has a greater positive impact on performance than only taking a nap or drinking coffee.
How do I recover from pulling an all-nighter?
After a night of little to no sleep, you’ll likely need a boost to stay awake for the day. Try the following:
- Drink caffeine. A cup of coffee can help you keep going through the day. Be sure not to drink too much in the hours before bedtime.
- Take a power nap. Avoid sleeping for more than a half-hour so that you don’t enter into a deeper sleep. Too long of a nap can make sleeping at night difficult.
- Reduce your sleep debt. The weekends are often a great time to catch up on your sleep. However, sleeping too much on the weekends can further disrupt your sleep schedule. Try going to bed each night during the week at least 15 minutes earlier.
- Improve your sleep hygiene. Look for ways you can help yourself sleep better, such as creating a regular sleep schedule. Ensure your sleep environment is cool, dark, and quiet. Also, avoid blue light—emitted by phones, TVs, and computers—before bedtime.
While at first it may be challenging, it is possible to adjust your lifestyle to improve your sleep. Whether independently or with the aid of your physician, you can take steps to better your sleep hygiene. Your future self will thank you!
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29073412/ Accessed Tuesday, February 16.
- https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/data_statistics.html Accessed Tuesday, February 16.
- https://medlineplus.gov/healthysleep.htm Accessed Tuesday, February 16.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27381857/ Accessed Tuesday, February 16.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15798944/ Accessed Tuesday, February 16.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29554902/ Accessed Tuesday, February 16.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10984335/ Accessed Tuesday, February 16.
- https://www.pnas.org/content/110/12/e1132 Accessed Tuesday, February 16.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18412035/ Accessed Tuesday, February 16.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2657963/ Accessed Tuesday, February 16.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25028798/ Accessed Tuesday, February 16.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9401427/ Accessed Tuesday, February 16.